Arthritis and other conditions that impair mobility can make everyday tasks like taking a bath exceptionally difficult. That's why, if it is getting tough for you or one of your relatives to take a bath or shower, you might consider installing a walk-in tub.
"Walk-in tubs are a good solution for anybody with mobility issues and are a preferred choice for seniors. They give entry without having to lift your leg and usually have a safety bar to help with balance minimizing the risk of a fall," says Meg Marrs of the Massachusetts-based online caregiving resource Safer Senior Care. "Their fast-draining means that you don't have to wait long before the tub is fully emptied to open the side door and exit the tub."
When does it seem like a walk-in tub would be a sensible addition if not necessary? "Balance or mobility issues are good signs to start shopping around for a walk-in tub," says Marrs. It also makes sense to be thinking ahead. "They need to be professionally installed so it is always advisable to start looking at the onset of the signs so that it is ready to use when really needed."
When considering what kind of walk-in tub is right for you or your family, Marrs says you need to consider the layout of your house and the general mobility of the person you're buying it for. "Walk-in tubs come with either a left-side or right-side door and drain. Although this may seem to simplify choice by your current plumbing, you must consider the abilities of the person who will be using the tub," she says. "Issues with their right or left arm will play a part in the choice and may require some plumbing modifications to be made to the bathroom. A weakness in the right arm would mean it is easier to hold the wall bar with your left hand as you sit. This would require a left-hand side tub door."
A walk-in tub can make life easier for a person with mobility issues and help them regain a sense of control, plus it will make it so a family member or live-in nurse won't need to help them every time they want to clean off. That said, "walk-in tubs take up a lot of space and are quite expensive. Beyond the initial outlay, they generally take more water to fill which will reflect in water bills, and sometimes a new larger water heater would be needed," says Marrs. "If cost or space is a factor, then another option to consider is a walk-in shower that does not have a step.”
With that in mind, here are the best walk-in tubs, as recommended by Marrs and other experts on home improvement and the needs of seniors.
Best Walk-in Tubs for Seniors and Others With Mobility Issues
Ariel 4.5-Foot Walk-in Bathtub: $1,899 at Amazon or $1,993.96 at Home Depot
This Arial walk-in bathtub, compliant with the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act), gives you the flexibility to "choose multiple configuration options and comes in at under $2,000," says Marrs. "It has a 17-inch seat height and 23-inch and a free-standing stainless steel support frame with adjustable feet along with a safety bar inside the tub."
Some models may be temporarily sold out. At last check, a slightly different Ariel walk-in tub than the one mentioned above was listed as available for $1,999 at Amazon.
Empava 53” Walk-in Tub Freestanding Bathtub: $1,902 at Home Depot or $1,999 at Amazon
David Richardson is a Milwaukee-based property manager for residential real estate properties. For homes and apartments aimed at older tenants, he likes the Empava Walk-in Freestanding Bathtub, which he calls "an aesthetic bathtub for homeowners looking for a stylish bathtub. It's made of glossy white acrylic and its design makes it simple to use for anybody. The handrail on the front is a convenient and perfect safety feature for the elderly."
Raven ADA Compliant Walk-In Tub: $3,819.66 at Rehabmart
One benefit of the Raven ADA Compliant Walk-In Tub is that it is designed to fit in multiple different spaces, so it may work even if you have a smaller bathroom, according to Dr. Andrea Paul, the founder & CEO of the online resource Health Media Experts.
"This walk-in tub has a door that is water-tight, which helps to prevent water from leaking when the tub is full. The benefit of having this tub installed is that even if you had a full-sized tub removed recently, it can fit easily there," says Dr. Paul. "You don’t have to make more space for it. The tub also has a non-slip floor, which means you can bathe without the fear of slipping and hurting yourself."
Total Care in Bathing BS Series: $5,362.20 at Lowe's
Even in the world of walk-in tubs, luxury options are available if you have the money. "The Total Care in Bathing BS series is stylish and loaded with features that make it the ultimate in luxury in walk-in tubs. It comes with a lifetime warranty on a watertight door seal, tub shell, frame, and finish," Marrs says. "Fitted with a fast drain system, 5-piece chrome faucet set with hand-held shower and exclusive LED faucet light kit, 20 air jets, 10 whirlpool jets, and 1 bidet jet and a heat exchanger to maintain water temperature, all add up to a spa-like bathing experience."
Flamingo II Step-In Bath: $2,198.81 at Rehabmart
The Flamingo II Step-In comes with enough features to make bathing not just accessible but downright pleasurable, according to Dr. Paul.
"The best part about this walk-in tub is that it has pre-fitted handles and faucets. So, you don’t have to worry about going through any hassle to fit them afterwards. It also has an expandable shower handle, making your shower experience easy," she says. "Moreover, the optional auto-drain system allows you to drain the tub whenever in between your shower or after, in less than a minute. The tub also has an optional built-in jet system which provides a soothing massage to your body. Finally, the tub also comes with an optional padded neckrest, on which you can relax and enjoy your shower."